July 9, 2014
Ascend International School
I’m writing from my apartment today, seated in my “reading nook” (translate to small table and comfy chair I set up to face out one of the many windows in my living room), learning to type on my iPad without too many errors. From the eastern window where I sit, I look out over a large (but no where near the largest) slum, a busy road, a deeply excavated pit and a large part of southern Mumbai. During the day the blue tarp roofs of the slum huts contrast starkly against the brown mud that makes up the floors and streets and playing fields. Strewn throughout are several two story shelters, brightly painted in purples, pinks, greens and yellows. Trash litters the ground, sometimes in messy piles, sometimes in neatly organised bundles, sometimes simply spilling over the curb or tumbling slowly towards the lower banks of the Vakola Nala waterway. I have never seen this much trash before, but there it is.
There is always movement to be seen from this corner, even in the middle of the night (discovery courtesy of Jetlag) or the earliest morning, though it is not always humans catching my eye. Taking a closer look I see dogs and chickens, rats and pigs. Occasionally a cow wanders north toward the road that marks the boundary of the encampment, and crows constantly circle and land, scavenging what hasn’t already been claimed. Twice I have seen piglets hurrying after a sow, and the elegant egrets cannot be overlooked as they fly by on their way to the flood lands across the street. And just now – a kite hovers outside my window, wings spanning almost two feet across, then flaps the quick downstroke of an accipiter before spiraling toward the water below.
Traffic flows endlessly up and down Professor Shilsekar Road (yes, Dad…there are many roads named after professors!), and at the corner is rickshaw central, the place to park, clean, and hail an auto rickshaw. At night they will all be lined up, silent and orderly, waiting for morning light. There are chai stands there as well, though I haven’t yet tried any (shame on me!) as much of our time since arrival has been planned for us. (Perhaps my stomach is also wanting just a few more days to settle in!) Buses, cars, taxis, autos, motos and bicycles move in a rhythm that seems to be felt in the heart and tapped out with a horn, slaps of the hand, and shouts. Here, if you are driving you are honking, and if there is honking, you are alive. Logic and reasoning 101.
Looking north and east are myriad buildings I haven’t yet identified, for even with a map buildings exist that have not been surveyed, and buildings yet to be built (if ever?) are clearly noted. The University of Mumbai’s Department of Physics is perhaps a stones throw away and somewhere out there is a Grand Hyatt and the American Consulate. What is most notable currently is the flooded field that stretches out between two roads, acres upon acres that usually are dry (so we’ve been told), but are deep enough to support diving birds and fishermen’s reels. Only a few of the more adventurous seem to head out into the water, and for all I know they are not the adventurous, but the stupid, or playful, or bored, or desperate. Everything is so foreign to me here, I can only describe the scene as three white shirts and a red wade slowly across the field in a queue, one after the other, clearly moving at a deliberate pace to keep solid footing. On the other side I see now that a small group waits for them. They momentarily huddle close, then start to disperse again- three black shirts to the north, one yellow to the west, and the four first mentioned seem to now be waiting in place, for what, I don’t know. I don’t need to understand just yet.
The sun is starting to set, and in the next hour or so drumming will start up down below and evening call to prayer will be heard throughout the city. The smell of smoke and fouled water and garbage and spices will move through the air. Slowly the traffic will die down, the horns becoming the occasional punctuation to a well worded statement. The crows will not stop cawing, though crickets will begin to sing, and the relative quiet might be mistaken for silence. For now a cow wanders across the bridge spanning Vakola Nala, leisurely meandering from one side of the road to the other, her white hump standing out against her brown body. Rickshaws pile up behind her, and motorcycles weave carefully around, lest they bother the sacred mother. She knows she is safe and happy, cared for and loved.
Life is good in this little corner, yes? Yes.
May you be happy and healthy,